A 2011 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine brings to light another problem with caregiving. The people that are hired to care for elders or disabled may not be health literate. Health literacy is about understanding complex terminology. It’s about conversational competence like the ability to listen effectively, articulate health concerns and explain symptoms accurately. It’s also about evaluating, analyzing and deciding about one’s own care. It’s not just reading.
A study conducted by Dr. Lee Lindquist in Chicago looked at the health literacy of 98 paid caregivers. The group had higher health literacy than the average American but had difficulty with complex medication regimes. Sixty percent had difficulty accurately interpreting prescriptions and over a third of this group were not health literate.
Caregiving is an undervalued occupation. Unpaid family caregivers provide the vast majority of care, in fact at the value of $375 billion. Paid caregivers are often hourly wage earners. It this study, their average hourly wage was only $8.91. The majority of the caregivers in the study were not Americans but were from other countries, 40% were Americans, 34% were from the Phillipeans and 19% were from Mexico and the rest were from Africa, Eastern Europe and India.
According to the US government,
“This year, about nine million men and women over the age of 65 will need long-term care. By 2020, 12 million older Americans will need long-term care. Most will be cared for at home; family and friends are the sole caregivers for 70 percent of the elderly. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that people who reach age 65 will likely have a 40 percent chance of entering a nursing home. About 10 percent of the people who enter a nursing home will stay there five years or more.”